Nowhere Home in Oxford

Nowhere Home by Margreth Olin

Nowhere Home by Margreth Olin

Special screening of Margreth Olin’s award-winning documentary: Nowhere Home

When: Tuesday 30th April 2013: 6.15pm introductory talk, 6.30pm screening

Where: The Ultimate Picture Palace, Cowley Road, Oxford

Organised by: Oxford Institute of Social Policy (OISP) in collaboration with the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC) and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at the University of Oxford and the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham

Synopsis: Nowhere Home follows the fortunes of a number of young people from Salhus, a Norwegian centre offering temporary residence to unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people as they approach adulthood. While they all hope to remain in Norway, the threat of deportation when they turn 18—and uncertain futures in countries like Afghanistan or Iraq—hangs over them. A visceral and provocative film, Nowhere Home scrutinises what Human Rights Watch has called one of  the ‘major moral dilemmas’ facing Europe today.

Year: 2012 / 90m.

Distributor: Norwegian Film Institute

Watch the trailer online.

Tickets: £8 (£6 concessions). Online booking now open.

Proceeds go to Asylum Welcome (Charity no. 1092265)

Hundreds of children live in the UK without legal status: interview on Voice of Russia

Wilson Center, Washington DC

A startling number of children are living in the United Kingdom with no formal documentation. Many of the children have been brought into the country as ‘illegal immigrants’ while others have been born here and never registered.I spoke to VOR’s Tim Ecott on how serious the problem is and of the risk of lack of legal immigration becoming de facto statelessness for tens of thousands of children. The interview is a response to today’s BBC news on statelessness in London that rather confusingly conflates destitution, lack of legal immigration and statelessness. Unfortunately, the heading and subheading given to the interview by Voice of Russia doesn’t do justice to the contents of the interview.

Legal status, rights and belonging: International symposia

The analysis of the relationship between legal status, rights and belonging is the central theme of two symposia jointly organised by the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC) and the Oxford Institute of Social Policy (OISP) at the University of Oxford.

The symposia are convened by Dr Roberto G. Gonzales  (University of Chicago) and myself .

Main Themes of the International Symposia

The events will be held respectively in Oxford in April 2013 and in Chicago in October 2013 and will address two interrelated aspects of the relationship between legal status, rights and belonging:

The symposium will investigate the interplay between forms and modes of contemporary membership, migration governance (both immigration and emigration), and the politics of belonging. This will be achieved through in-depth examinations of a range of experiences of membership including, but not limited to, those of:  ethnic minorities; citizen children of undocumented migrant parents; former unaccompanied asylum seeking children; people with dual citizenship; ‘failed’ asylum seekers; and stateless people. Participants are invited to discuss issues such as the position of the non-citizen in contemporary immigration and emigration states; the nexus between human mobility, immigration control, and citizenship; the tension in policy and practice between coexisting traditions and regimes of rights; and the intersection of ‘race’ and other social cleavages and legal status. The Oxford symposium is organised by Dr Nando Sigona (Refugee Studies Centre), Vanessa Hughes (COMPAS) & Dr Elaine Chase (Oxford Institute of Social Policy).

  • Illegality, youth and belonging  (Chicago, October 2013)

This second symposium will explore the confusing and contradictory experiences of belonging and illegality that frame the everyday lives of undocumented immigrant youth. Over the last two decades in the United States, non-citizens have experienced a shrinking of rights while immigrant communities have witnessed an intensification of enforcement efforts in neighbourhoods and public spaces. In effect, these trends have sewn fear and anxiety and narrowed the worlds of youth—such that even mundane acts of driving, waiting for the bus, and traffic stops can lead to the loss of a car, prison and deportation. But these young people have also benefited from local and national efforts to widen access—particularly in the realm of education—providing young immigrants important opportunities to establish connections, form relationships, and participate in the day-to-day life of their communities. The experiences of undocumented immigrant youth teach us about the two-sided nature of citizenship—such that persons can be removed from spaces, denied privileges and rights, but can experience belonging too.

Collectively this joint initiative aims to break new ground through analyses that are empirically informed, theoretically engaged and ethnographically rich and drawing on the expertise of scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and state contexts. As immigration has become a topic of great visibility among scholars, policy makers, and the media, this endeavour holds appeal to a range of audiences. Read the Background paper & Call for Papers

Deportation, non-deportability and precarious lives

I wrote a comment article on Anthropology Today (October 2012) challanging current assumptions on the so-called ‘deportation turn’ and demonstrating that the main impact of immigration control and enforcement is not the physical removal of unauthorised migrants but the production of a precarious and insecure mode of membership in society. The situation of undocumented migrant children is a case in point. For those without access to the journal, an earlier version of the piece appeared on this blog (do get in touch if you are keen to read the full version). I am currently working on a longer academic paper which I will be presenting as a paper in Goldsmiths and at the RSC this term.

Forced migration and citizenship

Matthew Gibney and I are convening the RSC‘s forthcoming seminar series on the theme of forced migration and citizenship. The talks are scheduled on Wednesdays at 5pm at the Oxford Department of International Development (ODID), 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford. They are open to the public. Speakers include:  Kieran Oberman, Irial Glynn, Katy Long, Bridget Anderson, and Lydia Morris. The first talk on deportation and the changing character of membership in the UK by Matthew Gibney is on Wednesday 10th October. The full programme is available here:

Is the UKBA ‘not fit for purpose’? What purpose exactly?

By Nando Sigona

The Home Affairs Committee has published a report into the work of the UK Border Agency in which it criticises the UKBA for failing to deport more than 600 Foreign National Prisoners who were released between 1999 and 2006 and are still in the country, and for failing to clear the ever increasing “controlled archive” of unresolved cases in the Case Resolution Programme. The report calls on for the Home Office to ‘act immediately to deal with the public scepticism in the effectiveness of the UK Border Agency’. Keith Vaz MP (Labour), Chair of the Committee, said:

The reputation of the Home Office, and by extension, the UK Government, is being tarnished by the inability of the UK Border Agency to fulfil its basic functions.

The findings of the report are not particularly new and come out at a time when the Home Office has already started yet another restructuring of the Agency, including its split in two separate bodies. Interestingly, the UK Border Agency – responsible for securing the UK border at air, rail and sea ports and migration controls – was set up in 2008 following a very similar set of criticisms that forced the then Labour Home Secretary John Reid to declare that the Home Office’s immigration directorate was “not fit for purpose” and that a single Agency was needed to secure effective and efficient management of the UK border. This time the solution is the creation of two agencies.

The recurring nature of the arguments we see in today’s report prompts me to take a step back and ask what or who exactly is “not fit for purpose”? To answer this question, it may be worth spending a few words on the criteria on which the purposefulness of UKBA is being assessed. I will refer in particular to three criticisms highlighted in the report: the slowness to remove foreign national prisoners from the UK, the concern with the high rate of appeals brought against UKBA’s decisions which are decided against the Agency, and the large number of unresolved immigration cases still awaiting decision.

First, removing foreign national prisoners is more complicated (morally and practically) that the tabloid headlines and many politicians let us believe. Figures from the Independent Chief Inspector of the UKBA show that in the 12 months to February 2011 32% of appeals lodged by foreign national prisoners against deportation were successful. UKBA’s decisions were overturned in 425 cases in total mainly on the grounds that prisoners had established long-term links to the UK (Article 8 of HRA) – many, to put it crudely, are UK’s born and bred criminals. The Chief Inspector’s report also notes that by January 2011, over 1,600 foreign national prisoners were detained under immigration powers at the end of their custodial sentence pending deportation, with the average length of detention increasing from 143 days in February 2010 to 190 days in January 2011. The main reason for this is that people come from countries that are not necessarily keen to get individuals that have committed serious crimes back on their territory and deportation is therefore impossible to arrange. Besides these practical limitations that make removal difficult, it is striking the absence in mainstream political/public debate of any considerations of the moral and broader societal significance of deporting individuals that, having committed a crime, through imprisonment have paid their debt with justice and, instead of being given another chance (was not imprisonment meant to be a tool for rehabilitation?) are punished three times: first, with imprisonment, then with pre-deportation detention and finally by being forcibly removed to another country.

Second, the report criticises the UKBA because ‘[it] is still losing almost half of the appeals brought against it’ and recommends that ‘systems must be put in place to improve the Border Agency’s appeal figures’. Should the Home Affairs Committee be concerned instead with the fact that a large number of migrants are kept in uncertainty and destitution for a long time because a significant number of UKBA’s initial decisions are wrong? Is the Home Affairs Committee implicitly questioning and undermining the fairness of the British Judicial system? Does this line of argument ultimately endorse the coalition government’s draconian cuts to legal aid as a tool for securing higher success figures for the UKBA?

Third, the Case Resolution Directorate was set up to review the backlog of over 500,000 unresolved immigration and asylum cases cumulated over the last decade. The fact that most of these cases were pending and/or unresolved over a long time should have alerted politicians on their complexity, instead current political debate has being focusing obsessively on the date for the completion of the review. Not surprisingly the Case Resolution Directorate that had to rush through thousand of cases in a short time ended up with over half of the cases filled in the ‘other action required’ category, including 98,000 in ‘control archive’. But there is also another aspect related to the backlog that is missing in current debate, despite the attempts of current government to blame for the backlog the previous one, the reality is that immigration policy continues to produce irregular residents and in-between cases.

To conclude, the quotes that Keith Vaz fed to the press regarding the report encapsulate the nature of the political debate in the country, in particular the consensus between the main parties in terms of stated political goals and values on immigration. This consensus confines the space for political dialectics to a discussion on the capacity or incapacity of the ruling government to deliver or not what they all agree, which conveniently diverts attention from the politician to the bureaucrat and in due course will bring to yet another restructuring of the Home Office’s immigration sector. It seems to me that what need to be reassessed are the goals of UK’s immigration policy and that yet another restructuring of the UKBA can do little to solve the problems that political parties are creating by failing to understand and approach international human mobility outside the limited frame of securitisation and under the duress of looming (Tabloid-fed) moral panic.

The Arab Spring and beyond: human mobility, forced displacement and humanitarian crises

By Nando Sigona

Migration in its various forms has been part of the popular uprisings that have spread across North Africa and the Middle East in 2011. First, the columns of vehicles escaping from cities and villages under siege in Libya came to represent the plight of civilians caught between conflicting parties and played an important role in galvanising Western public opinion in support for the international involvement, both military and humanitarian, in Libya. Second, the isle of Lampedusa and the boats crammed with migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea contributed to
resuscitating the powerful rhetoric of invasion in Europe and have come to represent the ambiguity of Western states’ responses to those fleeing from North Africa — this has included proposals for re-negotiating the Schengen
Agreement and increasing the role of Frontex, the EU agency tasked to coordinate the operational cooperation between Member States in the field of border security. Finally, the numerous dissidents returning from exile
give an indication of the involvement of diaspora organisations in the uprisings and raise interesting questions on the role they will play in the creation and consolidation of new state institutions.
These few examples only serve to alert us of the broader ramifications of the ways in which human mobility is intersecting current events in North Africa and the Middle East.
The ‘North Africa in Transition: Mobility, Forced Migration and Humanitarian Crises’ workshop organised by the Refugee Studies Centre in association with the International Migration Institute (IMI) on 6 May 2011 offered a platform to begin to explore how these events have affected and transformed existing patterns of mobility in the region and generated new ‘mixed’ migration flows. As a result of the crises, economic migrants have become forced migrants and forced migrants were forced into entering irregular migration channels in the search for survival, while others, including seasonal and long established migrants have become ‘involuntarily immobile’, such as migrant workers stuck inside Libya.
See the workshop report, with podcasts, at events/northafrica-in-transition
The RSC, IMI and the Oxford Diasporas Programme at the University of Oxford  are planning a follow-up workshop with the involvement of international scholars, practitioners and policy makers on 20th March 2012 which aims to reconsider the relationship between human mobility and the Arab Spring more broadly.